The 400th Grand Prix of the modern MotoGP™ four-stroke era will be played out around the classic, undulating curves of Brno this weekend, just one week after Austria was welcomed back onto the world championship calendar.
The riders and teams arrive in the Czech Republic with Ducati's 1-2 finish in Austria still the talk of the MotoGP™ town, as Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso showed the rest of the field a clean pair of heels.
It was Ducati's first win since Casey Stoner at Phillip Island in 2010 -- by a rider, Andrea Iannone, who will not be at Ducati in 2017. Iannone will make way for Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati and in turn join Alex Rins at Ecstar Suzuki next year.
“It is still very difficult to explain my feelings after the win in Austria, but I can only say that it was a truly incredible weekend," said Iannone. "Now we go to Brno for the next race and I think that this circuit is also very good for us.
"Last year I finished fourth despite a technical problem but now we have a good pace for fighting for the podium at every round. For sure also our rivals are very strong at this track but I think there is a good chance for me to score a good result again.”
At Brno in 2015, Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) dominated the race ahead of fellow big guns Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha).
After returning to form in Austria, Lorenzo will be eying his fourth win of the season at Brno, the same prize that could also await a victorious Marquez.
Marquez's fifth place at the Red Bull Ring was more a case of damage limitation after he dislocated his shoulder in FP3, but he still leads the championship by a comfortable 43pts (181 to 138) over Lorenzo with eight rounds to go.
"We had a challenging weekend in Austria but we did the best we could and, all things considered, we were able to get away quite well," said Marquez. "The shoulder didn’t bother me during the race but it was a bit sore afterward, so these couple of days before Brno have been good to rest a bit.
"Brno isn’t one of my favourite tracks but we’ve been able to get some good results there in the past. We must be really focused and work well in order to be able to fight for the podium again.”
Rossi (124pts) is third in the standings from Brno lap record holder Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 105), Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki, 93), Iannone (88), Dovizioso (79) and Pol Espargaró (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 78).
Rossi has won five times in the premier class ranks around the 5.4km Brno asphalt, while Lorenzo and Pedrosa have two wins apiece and Marquez one.
Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) is hoping for the green light to compete at Brno after a crash in the Austrian warm-up session saw him suffer hairline fractures to his T6 vertebrae and wrist. It was a disappointing result for the Townsvillian who was coming off two excellent GPs – including the maiden win at Assen – and had just returned to full fitness after breaking his left leg in a pre-season motocross crash.
If Miller makes it onto the grid – and if it's dry – he can expect to lock horns with the likes of Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), his great mate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Aleix Espargaro (Ecstar Suzuki), who will be hoping to have an easier time in Brno after breaking a finger in Austria and trying to ride through the pain.
Frenchman Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) is on the cusp of making history as the first rider to defend a Moto2™ title, and in his current inch-perfect form no-one will be betting against him.
Another win in Austria now has him a sizable leader over Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP40), while Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2™) is slipping out of the race.
And ominously, Zarco was the winner at Brno in 2015 at a circuit which suits his free-flowing style to a tee. As well as his immediate championship rivals, other challengers for Zarco at Brno will include Garage Plus Interwetten rider Tom Luthi and Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS pair Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) holds a comfortable championship lead (47pts) over Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0), the latter doing himself no favours in Austria after a late crash.
Romano Fenati was the talk of Moto3™ at the Red Bull Ring as the Italian was suspended from Sky Racing Team VR46 ahead of the race and took no part in Sunday’s proceedings on his KTM. With the details of his future unknown, his title aspirations seem on hold at best – although he is still third in the standings. Francesco Bagnaia (PULL&BEAR Aspar Mahindra) is now only 3pts behind fellow Italian Fenati third place in the title.
So many other riders are capable of winning at Brno: Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3 Honda), Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing KTM), Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) and Austrian poleman and victor Joan Mir (Leopard Racing KTM).
The three world championship races at Brno will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP™: 22 laps, 118.9km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
• Moto2™: 20 laps, 108.1km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
• Moto3™: 19 laps, 102.7km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)
Image courtesy of www.motogp.com